PURPOSE: To inform curricular development by assessing the ability of third-year medical students to address a patient's spiritual distress during an acute medical crisis in the context of an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) case. METHOD: During March and April 2010, 170 third-year medical students completed an eight-station videotaped OSCE at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. One of the standardized patients (SPs) was a 65-year-old man with acute chest pain who mentioned his religious affiliation and fear of dying. If prompted, he revealed his desire to speak with a chaplain. The SP assessed students' history taking, physical examination, and communication skills. In a postencounter written exercise, students reported their responses to the patient's distress via four open-ended questions. Analysis of the postencounter notes was conducted by three coders for emergent themes. Clinical skills performance was compared between students who reported making chaplain referral and those who did not. RESULTS: A total of 108 students (64%) reported making a chaplain referral; 4 (2%) directly addressed the patient's religious/spiritual beliefs. Students' clinical performance scores showed no significant association with whether they made a chaplain referral. CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that the majority of medical students without robust training in addressing patients' spiritual needs can make a chaplain referral when faced with a patient in spiritual crisis. Yet, few students explicitly engaged the patient in a discussion of his beliefs. Thus, future studies are needed to develop more precise assessment measures that can inform development in spirituality and medicine curricula.
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